BACK WHEN: Dr. T.J. Appleton: Doctor, leader, scholar

A mountain’s namesake

Dr. Appleton on the flyleaf of his book.

Dr. Appleton on the flyleaf of his book.

THERE ARE MANY familiar names connected with our local history. There are others whose names are not familiar but had a positive impact on our local history.

G.M. Lauridsen is a name we remember. He had a street named after him. Dr. T.J. Appleton was a man whose name may only be familiar to those who hike the Bailey Range. He had a mountain and pass named after him.

Thomas Joseph Appleton was born on Feb. 13, 1863, in Freedom, Wis. He was an intelligent young man who showed ambition at an early age. In 1877, at the age of 14, he began steady employment. In 1879 he began work as a brakeman on the Chicago & North Western Railway. By age 18, he had been promoted to conductor, which was no small feat. In two years, he went from brakeman to overseeing the daily activities of trains and their crew.

He was not only smart, he was ambitious, too. He continued with the railway until he was 22.

After the railroad, Appleton worked on a farm. It appears that, during that timeframe, around 1885, he met and married Minnie Montez Sliter. They had three children.

It seems he was still looking for his calling in life. Finally, at age 24, he entered medical school. He studied at the Chicago Homeopathic Medical College and graduated in 1891. He practiced his first six years in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Within a few years, Appleton was drawn to the rugged West Coast. Deciding to move to Clallam County, Appleton purchased two lots in the “downtown” section of Port Angeles. Appleton came to Port Angeles in November 1897.

Appleton’s arrival in was shaky at best. He discovered that his lots were under water during high tide. That fact neither fazed the young doctor, nor chased him away. He was resourceful and built a house elevated on piling. He moved to higher ground later.

It didn’t take long for Appleton to become involved in the community. On Nov. 8, 1898, he was elected coroner. He was part of the Republican ticket nominated in September 1898. He served as coroner for two terms until 1902.

In 1899, Appleton was a charter member of the Port Angeles Board of Trade, acting as one of its directors. The board was led by C.A. Cushing, president of the Port Angeles Eastern Railway.

It is not known when Appleton’s name was given to Mount Appleton and Appleton Pass. It is only known that the designations were intended to honor him. The book “Gods and Goblins, a Field Guide to Place Names of Olympic National Park” by Smitty Parratt, tells us “Dr. Appleton was a conscientious physician, who often made house calls in some of the most rural, unsettled parts of Clallam County.”

If patients were too sick to travel, Appleton had to ford the Elwha River in his horse and buggy to serve them.

This book also notes he provided medical treatment for local Native Americans.

In June 1901, 75 members of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe were suffering from a small pox outbreak. Appleton went and vaccinated all members of the tribe.

In 1903, Appleton was a charter member of Grand Aerie #483 (Port Angeles) of the Fraternal Order of Eagles.

In 1904, Appleton ran for mayor of Port Angeles and was elected. His term began in January 1905. He continued as mayor until 1908, when Appleton moved to Seattle.

Appleton continued to strive for up-to-date medical facilities in Clallam County. In March 1905, Appleton and Mr. and Mrs. George H. Turkington established a small private hospital. The Appleton Hospital was housed in a cottage on the north side of First Street near Chase Street (best guess: 315 E. First).

Appleton was chief of staff. George Turkington was the manager. Mrs. Turkington, an experienced nurse, handled patient care. They installed the latest tools of the medical trade. They planned on the hospital growing. Initially they only had capacity for four patients. Within a year, the Appleton Hospital was expanded to hold 15 patients.

In the “Like father, like son” file: Appleton’s son, T.J. Appleton, Jr. graduated from San Francisco’s College of Physicians and Surgeons in May 1906. Later in 1906, father and son helped organize the Angeles Camp of the Woodmen of the World. It was a fraternal benefit society intended to “clear away problems of financial security for its members.” After Appleton Sr. moved to Seattle, his son remained in Port Angeles and served as the health officer for both Port Angeles and Clallam County.

In that timeframe, it is apparent that Appleton divorced his wife, Minnie. The reasons are unknown. But when Appleton moved his practice to Seattle, Minnie did not follow. She remained in Port Angeles until her death in 1953.

On March 6, 1908, Appleton married Gertrude Helen Cross in Seattle. They lived in West Seattle. Gertrude was a 36-year-old widow who had three children.

Appleton seems to have been a man of boundless energy. It is hard to imagine the effort involved balancing family, a medical practice, community leadership and activity in fraternal organizations.

Even though Appleton was residing in Seattle, he remained connected to our community. In 1920, he purchased a lot in the Lake Crescent Villa, where he planned to spend his summers.

Besides being a conscientious physician, Appleton was an eloquent speaker and a published author. In 1930, he published a book titled, “The Basis of All Life and Subsidiary Articles.”

His book offers an interesting perspective about life. But it is on the fringes of science. It closely resembles what is today called micro-phenomenology, or cellular intelligence.

He wrote, “If intelligence exists in higher organisms, it must come from lower organisms, and so on down as there is no place to stop except in the beginning.” Our individual intelligence is a sum total of the intelligence of our individual cells.

Appleton formed many of his ideas from the works of Luther Burbank, famous American Horticulturist, and Erasmus Darwin, physician and father of Charles Darwin.

Appleton died on Aug. 23, 1942.

We can all make a positive impact upon our community. Our names may not be remembered, but we still can and we should strive to make a lasting contribution to our community.


John McNutt is a descendant of Clallam County pioneers and treasurer of the North Olympic History Center Board of Directors. He can be reached at [email protected].

John’s Clallam history column appears the first Sunday of every month.

Dr. Appleton on the flyleaf of his book.

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